By NACD Intern Katrina Vaitkus
In Oklahoma, a state deeply affected during the Dust Bowl, erosion is a major concern. Since the region’s soil is highly erodible, farmers must consider soil health practices that will reduce erosion and preserve water quality. Sarah Blaney, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), has been working hard with the association to encourage soil health practices.
In 2014, OACD received funding for a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project titled “The Oklahoma Healthy Soils RCPP Project.” The project is a state-wide project that received nine funding partners.
“We’re really focusing on water quality, and we’re addressing that through soil health practices and residue management” Blaney said. The goal of the project is “to establish two demonstration farms that are each one-year projects where we do multi-species cover crops following different cash crops,” she said. Two demonstration plots will be created in each of the five areas in Oklahoma.
Producers interested in being a part of the project submitted an application to OACD, where a committee consisting of OACD board members chose one farmer, per area, for each round. Once a producer was chosen, OACD worked with their local district to get the project moving. “We probably had two to 10 applicants per area,” Blaney said.
Field days are held on each of the demonstration farms, where producers, stakeholders and different members of the community come out to see the cover crops, walk the fields, look at soil pits, and hear about the process from farmers and other experts. “Field days are really important,” Blaney said. “They connect those folks that are interested in trying different practices with each other.”
The first round of demonstrations has been completed. Nine out of the 10 demonstration farms created by the RCPP project will be complete by August, with the last demonstration being held by this time next year.
The biggest challenge OACD faced was time and human capital. They struggled “to get dollars to administer and run the program,” Blaney said. They overcame these challenges through creative partnerships and matchings, such as partnerships with three seed companies who pledged $10,000 worth of seed for the project.
According to Blaney, the project, so far, has been a success. “We’ve gotten some producers that maybe wouldn’t have tried multi-seed cover crops to dip their toes in and try it,” Blaney said.
The project has also opened doors for different projects within OACD. Out of this project they’ve established a Soil Health Producer Network, which connects producers so that they can discuss things such as equipment and seeds. The Farm to Food Bank Project has stemmed from the RCPP project as well. In this project, farmers grow edible multi-species cover crops on small two acre gardens and local food banks glean the gardens. Read more about this project in the 2017 NACD Annual Report.
“This project also helped us strengthen some of the relationships between the association and the districts,” Blaney said. “There were a lot of good things that were born out of the original project.”